SC Soccer Players Return from Mission Trip to Kenya

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

During one game the soccer players had to brace the ball with stones at kick-off to keep it from rolling, and one barefooted opponent had to leave early because the rocks on the field-if a grassless space can be called that-gashed his heel open. It was not soccer at its finest, but the hugs shared between the two teams' players following the game were genuine. "Soccer is an amazing tool for ministry," said Sterling College Men's Soccer Coach Dave Underwood, who recently traveled with eight of his players to work with the sports ministry program at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Nairobi, Kenya. "If you throw a soccer ball out on any field around Nairobi, people gather. If you send a team of American players out on the field, THAT draws a crowd. Through soccer we formed friendships-and that led to more personal, more effective ministry."

Several young people from St. Andrews joined with the SC players to form a full squad, and the American/Kenyan "team" played eight matches in 10 days. After each game, both teams gathered for a time of prayer and sharing. "As a college soccer team, we represented both education and the sport, but it was important that we shared the most important thing in our lives, relationship with God through Christ. Next to that, everything else is nothing," said Coach Underwood. The Sterling College players and coach also conducted a clinic for nearly 450 kids ranging in age from four to 18. Following the training session, the SC team was able to give balls to the coaches who took their teams to the clinic. "We saw kids playing with soccer balls made from wadded-up trash bags wrapped in string," said Michael Baxter, a junior from Arlington, Wash. "It was awesome to see the coaches' faces when we handed them real soccer balls to use with their teams."

Club Azzurri and Buhler High School, both in Hutchinson, Kan., home to Jordan Getting, a sophomore on the trip, donated more than 100 balls, five sets of uniforms, 50 pairs of cleats, and other gear to be distributed during the trip. "Their generosity made our ministry that much more effective," said Coach Underwood, who also coaches a Club Azzurri team. "One email brought in a flood of donations, and we are so thankful for their support."
Underwood is also thankful for the SC players who went on the trip. "They didn't complain about anything, but there's so much more that I'm proud of them for." he said. "Not only did they form strong friendships with the Kenyans who traveled and played with us, they were incredibly open with everyone we met, from the children at the AIDS orphanage to the staff at the guesthouse where we stayed. On our last day in Kenya, Dario (Villatoro, a senior from Guatemala) and Kyle (Burns, a sophomore from Denver, Colo.) actually set up a scrimmage with the staff on the guesthouse grounds. It was clear God really prepared these guys' hearts for this trip."
The players say God's heart-changing work continued during the trip. "I think we realized by the second day that this trip wasn't just about us serving others," said Ryan Covey, a 2010 graduate from Edmond, Okla. "We learned so much." One life-changing experience was the visit to the Kibera slum, the second largest slum in the world. The team visited a girls' soccer academy located in the heart of the slum where girls can go tuition free and earn secondary-school diplomas. That afternoon the team played two soccer squads from the slum on a field next to Kibera-this was the slanted, grassless field covered in rocks. "A couple of the kids we played against were barefoot; some wore just one soccer cleat; one played in men's bedroom slippers," said Pedraam Abrar, a junior from Arlington, Texas. "After that game, we all agreed we could never complain about a mole hill or bad hop on our home field again."
"Actually, gratitude-in all areas of life-was a huge lesson," added Michael Wales, a sophomore from Camp Verde, Ariz. "We met so many people who lived in terrible conditions, yet they had joy. We live in so much comfort, yet we complain," added Cuyler Prichard, a sophomore from Aurora, Colo.
This trip was a first for the SC Men's Soccer Program, but Coach Underwood is determined that it not be the last. "God uses trips like these in so many incredible ways," he said. "It goes far beyond being used by Him to minister in another country. WE return changed, more unified because we have been reminded of what is most important."